Driving Corporate Innovation: Design Thinking vs. Customer Development

by | Aug 27, 2014

Great article by Steve Blank in the Huffington Post. Steve compares the methodologies of Customer Development (which he invented) vs the framework of Design Thinking.

Steve maintains that Customer Development and Design Thinking share similar characteristics in exploring customer needs, but their origins, differences and speed in practice are very different.

Steve Blank invented the Customer Development process trying to solve two startup problems. First, most Silicon Valley startups were (and primarily still are) technology-driven. They are founded and funded by visionaries who already have products (or product ideas based on technology innovation) and now need to find customers and markets. (Think of the early days of Intel, Apple, Cisco, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Second, burn rate and dwindling cash meant startups had to find these customers and the attendant product/market fit rapidly - before they ran out of money. These two characteristics- a technology-driven product already in hand and a need for speed- drove the unique characteristics of Customer Development. These include, says Steve:

  • Moving with speed, speed and did I say speed?
  • Starting with a series of core hypotheses - what the product is, what problem the product solves, and who will use/pay for it
  • Finding "product/market fit" where the first variable is the customer, not the product
  • Pursuing potential customers outside the building to test your hypotheses
  • Trading off certainty for speed and tempo using "Good enough decision-making"
  • Rapidly building minimum viable products for learning
  • Assuming your hypotheses will be wrong so be ready for rapid iterations and pivots

Design Thinking also focuses on understanding the needs of potential customers outside the building. But its motivations and tactics are different from those of Customer Development. Design Thinking doesn't start with a founder's vision and a product in-hand. Instead it starts with "needs finding" and attempts to reduce new product risk by accelerating learning through rapid prototyping. This cycle of Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation is a solutions-based approach to solving customer problems.

Lessons Learned

  • Customer Development and Design Thinking are both customer discovery processes
  • Customer Development starts with, "I have a technology/product, now who do I sell it to?"
  • Design Thinking starts with, "I need to understand customer needs and iterate prototypes until I find a technology and product that satisfies this need"
  • Customer Development is optimized for speed and "good enough" decision making with limited time and resources
  • Design Thinking is optimized for getting it right before we make big bets

The full article can be found here.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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